Borough President Melinda Katz delivered her first State of the Borough speech on Thursday, celebrating the borough’s diversity, its recent prominence as a tourism destination and the nurturing environment that she said has made Queens “the borough of families.”
“If it’s good for our families, it’s good for Queens,” said Katz, repeating what she said is her administration’s motto at Borough Hall and what was the focus of her 50-minute speech at Colden Auditorium at Queens College.
After a five-minute video that included Queens residents talking about the borough and Katz recounting how she grew up here, the daughter of civic-minded parents proud of the borough they called home, Katz took to the stage and welcomed the audience in eight languages.
“My parents believed that Queens held all the elements of any great city, and that no one should need to cross a bridge or tunnel to experience arts, culture, fine dining or great neighborhoods,” Katz said. “I inherited their vision while growing up here, from my childhood in Forest Hills to my education at our public schools to studying law at St. John’s.”
Packed into the 2,124-seat auditorium, filled nearly to capacity, were a host of elected officials, civic leaders and residents from across the borough.
Elected officials Katz mentioned individually included State Comptroller Tom Di Napoli, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, former Council Speaker Peter Vallone, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Letitia James, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, as well as the borough’s entire City Council delegation and state lawmakers.
She made a special point to welcome newly-minted state Sen. Leroy Comrie, who she hired as a deputy during her first year as borough president before he was elected state senator.
And Katz twice asked for a moment of silence, once for the two officers killed in Brooklyn last month and another for former Gov. Mario Cuomo, a son of Queens, who died on New Year’s Day.
While Katz spent much of the time celebrating recent successes, like the borough’s designation as the nation’s top tourist destination for 2015 by travel guide publisher Lonely Planet and its recognition as being “the intersection of the world” for its sweeping ethnic and racial diversity, she also laid out challenges and goals ahead. They included the following:
- Job creation, especially for LaGuardia and JFK airports and the health sector.
- Advocating for the return of the Rockaway Ferry, which saw a brief existence during the post-Sandy recovery but was discontinued soon after.
- Creating more pre-K seats to expand the program’s reach and expanding the Gifted and Talented program. She also emphasized the need to invest in the CUNY schools within Queens “so that folks stay in Queens or they come back and build a family.”
- Providing affordable housing, especially for seniors, many of whom become the caretakers for young families.
Katz, who is raising her two children in the same Queens home where she grew up, blasted Common Core, the controversial new teaching curriculum being used across schools in the city and state.
“I feel in my gut that there’s something wrong here,” she said. “It’s not a common core. It’s a common problem. We’ve got to do something about it.”
And at the core of all of these issues, Katz said, is the family. Here in the “World’s Borough,” Katz said, the American dream is alive and well. And that’s all thanks to the families.
“Both new arrivals and long-established families create the communities which make it uniquely attractive, for visitors and for investors alike,” she said. “And like generations before them, they come here to work hard and raise their children as Americans. People spend their life savings to come here from all over the world just to educate their children right where we are sitting right now.”